Treats are a tool of the trade: an exploration of food treats among grandparents who provide informal childcare

Morgan Pankhurst, Kaye Mehta, Louisa Matwiejczyk, Carly J. Moores, Ivanka Prichard, Sandra Mortimer, Lucinda Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)



Globally, grandparents are the main informal childcare providers with one-quarter of children aged ≤5 years regularly cared for by grandparents in Australia, the UK and USA. Research is conflicting; many studies claim grandparents provide excessive amounts of discretionary foods (e.g. high in fat/sugar/sodium) while others suggest grandparents can positively influence children’s diet behaviours. The present study aimed to explore the meaning and role of food treats among grandparents who provide regular informal care of young grandchildren.


Qualitative methodology utilising a grounded theory approach. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and focus groups, then thematically analysed.


Participants were recruited through libraries, churches and playgroups in South Australia.


Grandparents (n 12) caring for grandchild/ren aged 1–5 years for 10 h/week or more.


Three themes emerged: (i) the functional role of treats (e.g. to reward good behaviour); (ii) grandparent role, responsibility and identity (e.g. the belief that grandparent and parent roles differ); and (iii) the rules regarding food treats (e.g. negotiating differences between own and parental rules). Grandparents favoured core-food over discretionary-food treats. They considered the risks (e.g. dental caries) and rewards (e.g. pleasure) of food treats and balanced their wishes with those of their grandchildren and parents.


Food treats play an important role in the grandparent–grandchild relationship and are used judiciously by grandparents to differentiate their identity and relationship from parents and other family members. This research offers an alternative narrative to the dominant discourse regarding grandparents spoiling grandchildren with excessive amounts of discretionary foods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2643-2652
Number of pages10
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number14
Early online date31 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • grandparent–grandchild relationship
  • Food treats
  • discretionary foods
  • diet behaviour
  • Caregivers
  • Healthy diet
  • Reward
  • Child
  • Grandparents


Dive into the research topics of 'Treats are a tool of the trade: an exploration of food treats among grandparents who provide informal childcare'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this